Justice J. S. Verma (Jan 18, 1933-Apr 22, 2013) was the head of National Human Rights Commission during the Gujarat carnage. Neha Dixit, interviewed him on the carnage and the Nanavati Commission Report in 2008. It first appeared in Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 40, Dated Oct 11, 2008.
You said only somebody ‘naïve’ could absolve the Narendra Modi Government and the police of wrongdoings in the Godhra carnage. Why?
Because the report is far from the truth. Even a bare glance at the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) during the riots will prove this. The very first intervention of the NHRC, in March 2002, clearly suggested that both the police force and the highest functionaries of the state government were inactive in protecting its people.
During the Gujarat riots, I was the chairperson of the NHRC. In the 11 orders passed by the NHRC between March 1, 2002, and July 11, 2003, two orders on April 1 and May 31, 2002, unequivocally indicted the state government. In the April order, the NHRC clearly stated that the government is doing little to stop the violation of fundamental rights to life and dignity of the people in Gujarat. A year after Godhra, a letter was also sent to the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to intervene and ensure that the government was proceeding with adequate integrity.
What was Vajpayee’s response?
He could have stepped in to monitor the situation and issue directives to the competent authorities, but he did not even comment. Nothing came over, except for a formal acknowledgement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The report says that the government did not slip at all in providing protection and rehabilitation to the victims…
This is false again. Many of the largest rescue camps, including Shah-e-Alam in Ahmedabad, did not receive visits at a high political or administrative level till I visited them. This indicated a deeper malaise, discriminatory in origin and character. In its observation on the rescue, relief and rehabilitation measures, the NHRC also said that numerous complaints have been received regarding the lack of facilities in the camps.
You also raised questions on discriminatory practices during the riots. What were they?
In the NHRC REPORT for 2001-02, the commission noted two matters that raised serious questions of discriminatory treatment. The first was the announcement of Rs 2 lakh to the next of kin of the karsevaks who perished in the attack on the Sabarmati Express, and of Rs 1 lakh for those who died in the riots. The second related to the application of POTA to the first incident, but not to the riots. These issues seriously impinge on the provisions of the Constitution that guarantee equality before the law and equal protection of the laws within the territory of India, and the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
The day the Nanavati Commission was appointed to probe the Gujarat riots, you expressed your apprehensions. Why?
I had expressed my concerns as the NHRC head. Now that I am out of it, I have nothing to say regarding this.
The Supreme Court set up a SIT under a former CBI director. Shouldn’t Nanavati have waited for their report?
This you should ask Nanavati, not me.